The Dos and Don’ts of Evaluating Veteran Candidates

As an experienced hiring manager, you probably feel confident in the way you approach the hiring process.  You may think your questions are fair and without bias towards gender, race, or personal backgrounds. While this may be true in many of the more widely addressed areas that are generally promoted by both social movements, news, and politics, there’s a narrow but large subsection of the population that you may not have had as much exposure to when it comes to interviewing and hiring.

We’re talking veterans.  Whether active duty, reserve, or retired, veterans provide a substantial and diverse contribution to employers in a host of industries.  As of 2017, retired U.S. servicemembers made up 8.5% of the US workforce.  Given the specialty training and rigorous schedules and exacting process, veterans are often an attractive option for employers looking for solid, top-notch employees.  

While those with prior service experience can certainly prove an asset to your company, hiring such individuals is not without its hurdles if your hiring managers, interviewers or others aren’t properly trained.  From insensitive questions to undervaluing prior unrelated experience, here we delve into the do’s and don’ts when it comes to evaluating veterans candidates.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes you can make when evaluating a veteran for employment is to assume that their service has had a negative impact on their ability to perform.  In all areas we’re often prone to listening to the sensationalized news and hot topics. For veterans, one of the biggest terms often thrown around is PTSD. PTSD (or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a serious condition that can affect many who return after seeing active combat.  While the condition carries a host of physical and mental drawbacks, perhaps the greatest is the negative perception and misconceptions attached to the diagnosis.

First and foremost, don’t ask candidates prohibited questions such as “do you have PTSD” or “did you ever have to shoot or be shot at.”  Not only are these types of queries insensitive, they also could get you into serious HR hot water.

If after meeting with a former service member you have concerns about their ability to perform essential work functions there are far better and more productive ways to phrase those questions.  Try asking why the candidate feels like they would be a good fit for the position if they have any concerns over the job description or how they handle stressful situations. These questions are far more sensitive and focus on the job at hand without projecting bias towards the candidate’s service experience.

Another area where veterans often see bias is when they suffer a physical disability due to an active duty injury.  Besides being a poor business practice, discriminating against a candidate due to a physical disability that doesn’t affect their ability to perform their job duties also violates state and federal laws.  Ask the candidate if they are able to physically perform the duties as listed in the job description and trust their judgment when they answer.

Evaluating Transferable Skills

Another area where veterans often experience bias is in applying for positions that require specific work experience or a niche skill set.  While specialist positions do exist within the armed services, many veterans leave active duty with generalist experiences. This means that employers often evaluate veterans in the same way as they would entry-level candidates making it an uphill battle to find gainful employment after serving their country. 

Savvy employers know that what a former service member lacks in on the job training they make up for in commitment to quickly learning new tasks.  Thinking on your feet is an essential quality developed across all branches of the military. Instead of considering veterans as having zero years of experience, give credit for their time served in the military.  Operating a forklift may take special training, but a veteran will most likely have a great amount of experience in safely operating other vehicles and machinery.

During the interview, ask the candidate about what skills or experience they feel would be most transferable to the new position.  Most job descriptions have wiggle room for years on the job by using the phrase “or equivalent experience.” Assess veterans based on their service experience on a case by case basis and avoid automatically labeling someone as entry-level simply because they held a different title in their past job.

Final Thoughts on Hiring Veterans

Employers should realize that hiring a veteran provides a great opportunity to add employees with significant extra skills.  Former service members have had the opportunity to develop leadership skills as well as high attention to detail and are typically loyal to their company.  Veterans are also more likely to show up on time and be reliable, hard-working employees. In short, if you have the opportunity to hire a veteran, consider the perks the candidate may offer and value those when compared to actual work experience or specific titles.  Your organization will reap the benefits of the contributions a veteran can make to your mission and overall business.

Article Updated from the Original on August 9, 2018